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CFJ - Jamaican Chefs

The Culinary Federation of Jamaica (CFJ) was formed to bring together the chefs, sous chefs and pastry chefs from across the island," states president Dennis McIntosh on a perfect Sunday afternoon in Runaway Bay. "Working together we will then become active in the areas of education and agricultural development of contemporary Caribbean cuisine." CFJ chairman Bill Moore stresses Jamaica's unique position in the development of a world- class Caribbean cuisine and how "it behoves all of those involved in the industry to come together and work for the common good".
And so the real work commenced on Sunday, January 13, with officers of the culinary federation, chefs and sous chefs from across the island as well as sponsors, observers and students passionate about culinary arts. Sights are set on The Taste of Jamaica (2008) and the ultimate award, The Team Gold, at the Taste of the Caribbean to be held late summer (no date has yet been finalised) in Miami, Florida. Making the first cut is the immediate focus.

Tension is high as the island's top chefs traverse the sterile areas, their trainees trying their best to keep up with the blistering pace. The judges are already in place: Culinary Federation of Jamaica president and The Tryall Club director of Culinary Programme Dennis McIntosh; Royal Plantation general manager and long-time Caribbean culinary giant Peter Fraser; Walcon Austin, executive chef/food consultant-Grace Foods & Services Company; and co-ordinator-logistics Bill Moore. One-time CIA (Culinary Institute of Americas) lecturer now executive chef, bakery at Wegmans Food Markets, Inc, Joe McKenna takes his seat too. He was flown in from New York to oversee the pastry competition, and in a setting that affords the most amazing vista bartenders cut, peel, grate and blend concoctions with and without alcohol under the super-attentive watch of chef Louis Bailey, still fondly referred to by many as the flying chef.

It is difficult to rationalise not only where to start, but how best to see it all; logic however, dictates that we commence with the bartenders and make our way slowly to the chefs. A great decision! 20-year-old Alex Saunders, formerly of Norma's on the Terrace, Kingston, currently a Level 11 student at Heart Runaway Bay, impresses not only with his professional image but there is, too, his Vanilla Slide & Mint Lemonade as well as his Bailey's Tia Maria Vanilla Ice Cream splashed with Myer's Rum. There's little surprise that he cops several awards, including Wray & Nephew's Most Creative Non-Alcoholic Award.

Of note too, is Ralston Campbell of Sunset Jamaica Grande who excites the taste buds with his Tropical Dreams - a perfect blend of Appleton Rum, Blue Curacao, Triple Sec, Cr�me de Banane, pineapple and orange juice, a splash of lime juice and cracked ice.

Bartender of the year 21-year-old Junior Lewis of Starfish Resort Trelawny - for his Trelawny Blend - celebrates with fellow teammate at Starfish Resort Trelawny Avion Reid who copped the silver medal. (Photos: Garfield Robinson)
His second beverage is Whistling Breeze - a smooth combination of Kiriv Vodka, Peach Schnapp, Blue Curacao, cranberry, pineapple and lime juice.

The coveted Bartender of the Year award as well as the Wray & Nephew award for the Most Creative Rum Drink goes to the ever so dapper, immensely personable 21-year-old Junior Lewis of Starfish Resort Trelawny for his Trelawny Blend - a sophisticated blend of Overproof White Rum, Appleton Rum, pineapple and grapefruit juice.

His Reggae Beat combines ever so subtly vodka, Blue Curacao, clear syrup and lime juice and finally Banana Tease - a sweet-smooth blend of pina colada mix, papaya and pineapple juice - delights all the senses. The confident bartender speaks to Thursday Food about his amazing foray in an industry that commenced at age 18 and was nurtured every step of the way by managers, and fellow teammates at Starfish. Lewis is overjoyed too, by the fact that fellow bartender, in fact the sole female entrant, Avion Reid cops the silver medal.

Half Moon Hotel's Fitzgerald Haughton is announced the winner of Wray & Nephew's Most Creative Vodka Award.
The Ice Carver of the Year Award (sponsored by Falmouth Ice) as well as the Team Spirit of the Competition Award goes to Duwayne Griffiths of Round Hill Hotel and Villas.

Guest pastry judge Joe McKenna shares with Thursday Food the cyclical nature of desserts: "it's just like fashion, constantly changing". It is indeed, we concur, "moving" according to the pro "from architectural tributes to homey-type sweet treats". McKenna stresses the importance of functional desserts and the importance of paying less attention to the 'wow' factor and more instead to the taste and texture. "So many chefs are not tasting their creations, not putting themselves in the customer seat . what's on the plate must be edible, not just hard as a rock sugar." McKenna is pleased that participants make use of local ingredients like sorrel and jackfruit and combined fresh flavours.

McKenna's brief:

Put yourself in the customer's position. Taste what you make.
Each dessert should be able to stand on its own.
Functional edible garnishes are more important than going for that 'wow' factor.

Portions were observed to be too big. Decadent offerings ought to be paired with a lighter treat. Balancing desserts is important. More fruit should be used on its own.

Thursday Food observed two dessert offerings of Heart Academy Runaway Bay pastry chef Lincoln Peterkin - Simply Elegant.

- Pumpkin and scotch bonnet mousse.
- Nutty Red Stripe puff filled with june plum and gingered pineapple.
There was, too, Donald Whitehead of Half Moon Hotel's offering of:
- Rum molasses pumpkin cake
- Coconut gratin
- Sorrel ginger mousse with passion fruit coulis

Pastry Chef of the Year went to Paula Reid of Round Hill Hotel and Villas for her Caribbean Delight. A four element dessert that comprised: guava spitzel, a passion fruit ackee mousse, callaloo mint sauce and fruits (watermelon, pineapple, cantaloupe and honey dew) marinated in a 12-year-old Appleton Rum Guava spitzel, reduced in apple juice and vanilla bean and then further sauted in guava pure, allowed to sit and crowned with melted sugar.

"Building on our tradition is what Round Hill is all about," explains an elated Reid, "we use natural ingredients to create innovative dishes and I'd like to think that I am now part of that tradition." Indeed she is impressing not with what's fundamentally 'foreign' but taking what's right in front of her and elevating it to international standards.

Chef of the Year

Naturally this is the 'biggie', and with magazine styling and professional tools our guys seek to impress the pros: Dennis McIntosh, Peter Fraser and Walcon Austin. "It's exactly what is needed at this time," states Fraser, "we need to raise the bar and this is one of the ways. there's a lot of potential, particularly among the younger chefs. The intricate and indigenous use of local herbs, vegetables and tubers have been mind-boggling."

McIntosh feels it's important "to continue investing in our young people . to secure not only a viable industry for our country but a future for our young chefs who I encourage to go away, develop skills, gain additional experience and return to the region". He, like Fraser, sees the Taste of the Caribbean competition as a vehicle to unearth and nurture raw talent.

If the individual presentations are nerve-wracking the final critique presented by chief judge Dennis McIntosh is a lesson in professionalism at the highest possible level. There are many lessons to be learnt but no one feels 'put-down.'

McIntosh's focus is on developing, and he explains how currency could be immediately added to a plate by exceeding the customer's expectation. "No more bellyful," he implores, "master the fundamentals, eg, your stock, soups and sauces. Your guests, you would have observed, are paying lots more attention to the quality of their lives and this puts us in an extraordinary position to showcase our local organic products so don't just peel, boil and place carrots, cho-cho on a plate, saute in a little extra-virgin olive oil for example . ensure that your plates have a good focal point".

Soliciting feedback and making his critique participatory, McIntosh continues, "Chefs must be specific about recipes; a meal for example called chicken delight cannot contain shrimps. imagine what would have happened to an unsuspecting guest with allergies." Attention to detail was stressed too like the many shrimp dishes prepared with the tail intact. "Consider the convenience on the customer. By leaving on the tail, you'd immediately need a fingertip bowl. Knowledge of meats and cuts need to be further developed."

At the end of this interactive session there were nods of approval as participants assembled to find out who would be declared National Meats-sponsored 'Chef of the Year'. The big award lands squarely at the feet of 21-year-old Runaway Bay Heart Academy-sponsored commis chef Brian Lumley who also cops gold in the mystery basket competition as well as the Best Dressed Foods-sponsored award for most creative use of chicken. Lumley shared his surprise with Thursday Food: "I was the surprise win of the day. I mean I really prepared for this and finished ahead of the allotted time. I'm truly honoured. I've just returned from Japan where I represented Jamaica in the World Skills competition (it promotes vocational skills) and this gives me more motivation to truly excel in the culinary field. His entr�e termed 'loveable' - red Thai curried chicken breast stuffed with jerk snapper and accompaniments of julienne vegetables and pumptatoes (pumpkin and Irish) and a side of shrimp guacamole topped with fresh parmesan cheese - suggests a career to be watched.

Our fingers are crossed and expectations high that a national team identified as a result of this competition to represent Jamaica at The Taste of the Caribbean competition organised annually by the Caribbean Hotel Association will not only medal but show the world that Jamaica is a food destination worth sampling.


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